ALLIANZ FL DIVISION 1
DUBLIN v MONAGHAN
(Parnell Pk, Tonight 7.30, live Setanta 1)
AND now it gets very interesting. Pat Gilroy's capital colts have made a happy knack of winning tight games they were expected to lose. Tonight, though, they resume league combat in the slightly unusual position of being 'warm' favourites.
With every successive win, the Dublin 'Hypometer' rises another notch and it will be intriguing to note how the younger members of Gilroy's evolving team cope with growing expectations.
They aren't a red-hot tip for another two points this evening, for several good reasons. But they are expected to win, nonetheless. Will they flourish or freeze under the mantle of favouritism?
First up, a few reasons why Dublin should be on their guard tonight:
Monaghan may be currently in the top-flight drop zone but they aren't playing that badly. They were only pipped at the post in a high-scoring collision with Cork, whose early spring form has been even more convincing than Dublin's.
They only lost their way against Galway following the first of two dismissals. And they come into this fixture on the back of a morale-boosting victory over Tyrone -- something that has rarely come easily to the Farney men during Seamus McEnaney's tenure.
Monaghan are unlikely to be cowed by the bright lights of Donncyarney or the raucous roar of the Parnell 'Hill'. They have collected five points from their last three league treks to the capital -- winning at their ease in 1998 and 2006, then drawing in '08.
Dublin have kept on winning without playing consistently well. That, in itself, is an encouraging trait but there will come a time when they won't get away with these lapses because the opposition play well for longer. It remains to be seen whether Monaghan have the depth of talent or form to be the ones to end Dublin's winning run.
Either way, Gilroy will be looking for a compelling performance -- not just another winning result. In the wake of Sunday's escape-to-victory in McHale Park, he highlighted their ball-winning problems at midfield as one of the reasons why Mayo created so many scoring chances and why Dublin appeared to end up with a raft of bodies deep in their own half, leaving their two strike forwards (in this case the two Kevins, Bonner and McManamon) too isolated inside.
In fairness, the Dublin midfield had dominated the possession stakes in their previous two outings with Eamonn Fennell especially suggesting he has the full package as ball-winner, hard-tackler and point-scorer.
The wantaway O'Toole's man along with Ross McConnell also delivered several impressive cameos of catching and scoring against Mayo; it's just that Dublin's middle-eight were beaten to the ball too many times.
As for forward isolation -- an issue most apparent in the first half against Derry as well as in the Mayo game -- it's a moot point whether this has stemmed from ball-winning problems at midfield or an overly-defensive alignment.
Gilroy is adamant that this is not some tactical strait-jacket imposed by management, but it was telling that Dublin suddenly became a more potent outfit once Bernard Brogan came off the bench in the last two games.
The Plunkett's predator made things happen in the last quarter against Derry while he found the net within minutes of his introduction against Mayo. Brogan (the younger) was Dublin's standout forward in 2009, albeit his own streaky form tended to mirror the wild oscillations of the Sky Blue collective.
There has been a sense that, by starting Bernard on the bench for the opening three games, Gilroy has been making a point about the requirements for fitting into Dublin's new endless-work ethic. Tonight, he gets his chance from the off and there's no denying they look a more potent outfit for it.
Dublin would carry an even greater menace if Conal Keaney hadn't shipped another injury in the midst of his last-quarter tour de force. Despite Keaney's absence -- and the considerable threat posed to Dublin's new full-back line by the power of Vincent Corey and the glory of Tommy Freeman bearing down on goal -- the feeling is that the home side should keep on winning for one more week at least.
ODDS: Dublin 1/2, Draw 15/2, Monaghan 2/1